Tobacco Industry Alters Unflattering Secondhand Smoke Research
> 10/25/2007 11:14:27 AM

Anyone inclined to grant the benefit of the doubt to smoking research funded by the tobacco industry may need to reconsider: despite overwhelming evidence linking secondhand smoke to cardiovascular disease, reports sponsored by Philip Morris and other substantial tobacco interests have distorted or excluded results in ways clearly designed to downplay the detrimental effects of inhaling tobacco smoke, be it direct or secondhand, according to a report published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

A prime example of the industry's pattern of outright deception concerns a 1995 study in which a group of non-smokers were exposed to tobacco smoke in an enclosed setting over a period of several hours. Subjects displayed all the typical signs of bodies poisoned by tobacco: compromised lung functions, higher cholesterol levels, inflammatory markers in the bloodstream. In their subsequent report, the researchers (funded by industry dollars) did not fully report these results, and attributed elevated stress levels to anxiety prompted by "the aroma of tobacco." In another instance of corrupted research, an industry-funded study linking clogged arteries to cigarettes drew published criticism in a syndicated science journal; the article in question was, in a dubious coincidence, written by an industry executive. Expecting objectivity in a research cycle completely supported by the business upon which it reflects is naive to say the least. And the list continues: some "nonsmoking" subjects in industry studies were, in fact, regularly exposed to secondhand smoke, invalidating their status as controls.

Yet another example of legally dubious industry maneuvers concerns the class of cigarettes marketed as "light" or low-tar. The fallacy of these smokes has been thoroughly exposed and the industry has paid the price in legal fees, but they insist on drawing that deadly deceit into the present by continuing to market certain cigarettes as light and, by implication, less damaging. In an effort to negate liability, they do not publicly deny the truth of the matter, claiming that they never intended the "light" smokes to be mistaken for a healthier product.

Bad news for the tobacco industry does not end with evidence of their duplicity in the lab and the marketplace- recent reports confirm that pre-teens and adolescents who smoke are far more likely to use and abuse illicit drugs in their later lives, and the numbers are striking: those who begin smoking at the age of 12 or younger are three times as likely to become binge drinkers, fifteen times as likely to smoke marijuana, and seven times as likely to use harder drugs like cocaine and heroin. Not only are kids more likely to try these substances, they are also more likely to become addicted once they do: early exposure to tobacco alters the developing brain in ways that leave teens more susceptible to the influence of other drugs, creating new neurological pleasure pathways that factor heavily in later cases of drug addiction. Teens who smoke are 9 times as likely to qualify for a diagnosis of alcohol dependence and 13 times as likely to fall into the substance abuse and dependence category.

Tobacco use also coincides with a greater instance of mood disorders, with 12- to 17-year smokers twice as likely to report periods of major depression. While some portion of this equation undoubtedly stems from the fact that depressive teens more often start smoking, the relationship clearly runs both ways. The oft-referenced "gateway drug" appears to be tobacco, and the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse has made several pressing recommendations including far stricter regulation of tobacco sales and advertising as well as increased funding for anti-smoking campaigns and tobacco cessation programs in mental health and drug rehab facilities. The recent effort to ban tobacco in rehab clinics reflects corresponding shifts in public opinion. Addiction to tobacco can prove just as trying and destructive as more commonly disparaged drug habits, and researchers and public health advocates must continue their battle against the tobacco industry in order to relay this information to the public. If it can convince even a few teens to avoid that first cigarette, it will be worth the effort.

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